Put your leftovers to new uses

Fried chicken salad: Tossed with mayonnaise, Sriracha and fresh lime juice. Add cubes of green apples and chopped green onion. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Leftovers don't have to look or taste like leftovers anymore, listlessly plopped from doggie bag to plate with possibly a quick zap in the microwave. Smartly use those leavings, whether from restaurant meals or takeout chow to create something new and delicious. In so doing, you'll even be making your country proud.

Worried that people who eat out more often, especially fast food, are more likely to be overweight or obese, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's program urges, among other suggestions, that one avoid oversize portions. "Take home half of your meal," the program's website urges.

And you'll be helping chip away at a growing food problem. The idea of transforming food that would otherwise go to waste into something delicious has been in the news of late. The conversation has ranged from chef Dan Barber's transformation of his Blue Hill restaurant in New York into wastED, a pop-up focused on turning trimmings often discarded into dinner, to the book "American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It)" by Jonathan Bloom.

And, of course, there's also the question of taste.

"Sometimes the leftovers come out better," says Jacques Pepin, the Madison, Conn.-based star chef, cookbook author and television cooking show host who over a long career has turned kitchen frugality into a delicious art. "There's always something you can do with it."


Here are some ideas, so you don't have to waste leftovers anymore.

Fried chicken

Turn cold pieces of fast-food fried chicken into a salad. Kevin Pang, my Chicago Tribune colleague, offers this: Cube the chicken, toss with mayonnaise, preferably the Japanese Kewpie brand, Sriracha sauce and fresh lime juice. Wing the proportions to suit your taste. Add cubes of green apple, peeled or unpeeled, and 1-inch pieces of fresh green onion.

Italian sausage, kielbasa, hot dogs

Slice into rounds, then arrange atop a frozen pizza and bake; drop into an escarole soup, a Louisiana jambalaya, a New England-style corn chowder or a mound of sauerkraut.

Gyro or shawarma meat

Turn those slices into a salad, based on one from Australian chef Matt Wilkinson in his new cookbook, "Mr. Wilkinson's Well-Dressed Salads" (Black Dog & Leventhal, $27.95). He calls for leftover roast leg of lamb, but gyro leftovers work well too. For Wilkinson's salad, mix together 1 large grated carrot, torn pieces of fresh mint, parsley and cilantro leaves; a little toasted coconut; and raisins. Toss with "a splash of good white wine vinegar and some plain yogurt," he says. Serve the salad over the meat slices, accompanied by grilled bread.

Pepper steak


Slice meat thinly, reheat in a skillet or microwave, stuff into a split baguette or sandwich roll lined with lettuce. Garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped onion and Sriracha sauce.


Make Pepin's rice pudding, adapted from his upcoming book: Heat 2 cups cooked white rice and 3 ½ cups milk to a boil in an ovenproof saucepan. Cover; bake at 350 degrees, 30 minutes; the rice should be very creamy. Stir in ½ cup dried cherries or cranberries, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 2 teaspoons grated lime zest, 1 teaspoon vanilla, ¼ cup sugar and ½ cup sour cream. Let cool. Serve with a blueberry sauce, if you like: Heat 1 pint small blueberries and 1/3 cup sugar to a boil in a saucepan, stirring occasionally. Boil, 1-2 minutes. Cool before using.

Also consider: Stir rice into a large quantity of water, and make the rice porridge known as congee; garnish with cilantro sprigs, diced chilies, leftover roast chicken or pork. Or make fried rice: Stir-fry with beaten egg, minced green onion and garlic, salt and some leftover cooked vegetables — peas, chopped red or green pepper, diced carrots.

Tortillas and tortilla chips

Use soft tortillas to make quesadillas: Spoon whatever filling you have on hand — sliced cheese, leftover roast beef, pork or chicken, cooked vegetables — onto the tortillas; fold in half. Heat over medium heat until the filling is hot and the tortillas are lightly toasted on both sides (turn carefully). Other ideas: Thinly slice tortillas into strips, toast in a dry skillet and use as a topping for chicken soup or salad. With tortilla chips, make these chilaquiles, adapted from Tribune Newspapers writer Russ Parsons' recipe: Stir 8 beaten eggs into some chopped onion and poblano that you've sauteed. Don't stir. After eggs begin to set, stir in 2 cups roughly broken up tortilla chips. Season with salt. Once eggs are nearly set, stir in some grated cheese (Cotija, jack, Chihuahua). Finish cooking; serve with more cheese, topped with chopped cilantro, salsa, sour cream.


Chop up cooked vegetables, suggests Wilkinson, and turn them into croquettes or vegetable hash; or mix with cheese, and make a savory pie topping. What's a croquette? Think of it kinda like a meatball. Bind finely chopped vegetables with beaten egg, a little milk, maybe some flour, and form into balls. Roll the balls in breadcrumbs and fry until golden. Also: Puree chopped cooked vegetables into a soup base of vegetable or chicken stock, with or without cream or milk; fold into a frittata or omelet; toss into your own homemade fried rice.

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